Crunch time for Andrew Trimble
Published 15/01/2014 | 11:30
Despite Ulster's 27-16 Heineken Cup win against an under strength Montpellier side on Friday night, there was much collective hand-wringing upon the final whistle at Ravenhill over the failure of Mark Anscombe's side to secure a four-try bonus point.
The result, coupled with Leicester's five-point haul from their trip to Treviso, has set up a tantalising encounter between Ulster and the Tigers at Welford Road on Saturday evening with the winner set to ensure their quarter-final will be at home when the competition resumes in April.
And while the never-to arrive-fourth try on Friday night would have left Ulster possibly requiring only a losing bonus to see Ravenhill hosting a last-eight tie, Andrew Trimble feels that he and his team-mates should have rendered it a moot point back in October.
A late penalty from Owen Williams secured a losing bonus point for the Tigers in Ulster's 22-16 pool-opening win and Trimble, who was yesterday named as one of 10 Ulster call-ups to the Ireland Six Nations squad, admits he now regrets what has become a highly significant concession.
Speaking at The Albany while attending a 'Heineken Get In The Game Event' following Friday's victory, the Ulster wing reflected: "We really had to deny them a bonus point when we played at home and that's where they stung us.
"Back then, when it's the first game of the pool, you just want to get off to a winning start so we didn't think about it too much at the time but those things, the fine details, are what can sting you a bit.
"It's put us in a position where we need to go and get a win, and that's a big ask, but I think we're more than capable of going there and getting the job done."
After five wins from five, Ulster have booked their place in the quarter-finals for the fourth time in succession but the motivation to secure a home tie at this stage is clear.
While the 2012 win over Munster in Thomond Park will go down in Ulster rugby lore, last season's loss to a Saracens side displaying none of the attacking vibrancy they have found during this campaign shows the importance of locale in knock-out competition.
Ulster have had some memorable outings against Leicester in recent times, this season's victory coupled with lopsided triumphs in both 2004 and 2011 but none of those victories came at the famous home of the Aviva Premiership champions and Trimble feels it will require a step up in performance if they are to get the necessary result this time around.
He added: "Whenever we get them at home we know how to play them and two seasons ago we got the bonus point at Ravenhill.
"This year wasn't as emphatic but to be honest none of our three home games have been as emphatic as we would have liked.
"I would really like to see us step up our performance level, we're in fourth gear at the minute.
"We just need to work on a few things and there'll be a lot of hard work this week to make sure we can put Leicester under pressure."
Friday's game was also significant for Trimble on a personal level as it saw him set a new Ulster record for european appearance, besting the previous mark set by current director of rugby David Humphreys, and it was a pleasing accolade for the 29-year-old.
He commented: "Playing 58 straight games in the Heineken Cup is something I'm really proud of, especially as Humph held the record before as he is someone I think the world of.
"I looked up to him as a youngster and then as a young professional rugby player so to take it from him makes it that bit more special.
"I got the opportunity to lead the team in the victory song afterwards in the changing room which seems like nothing but it means a lot to me so I'm really pleased."
Trimble marked the occasion with another strong display, his solidity under the high ball a particular highlight, and he conceded that it's an area of his game to which he has devoted special attention.
"It's something I've worked hard on as when I was 20 it didn't come naturally to me but when you have somebody like Ruan just putting the ball on a sixpence it makes it a lot easier to time your run.
"Against Montpellier, it can be your only way of getting into a game like that so I'm pleased to have that part of my game coming along."
The recent strong run of from has led to Trimble earning an Ireland recall for Joe Schmidt's first Ireland squad, announced yesterday. With only one of his 50 international caps coming since the turn of 2013, the former Coleraine AI pupil insists that gap is not a concern and he always retained faith in getting a shot at more caps.
"I used to get stressed out about that kind of thing but not so much anymore because if you're playing well enough for Ulster you'll get your chance for Ireland," he said.
"I just have to keep my head down, work hard, and try to make an impact next week.
"You can add up who is fit and who is playing well but there is always going to be competition so you just have to focus on yourself."